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Massachusetts AG Campbell outlines gun enforcement approach

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell.
Michael Dwyer
Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell.

In addition to the creation of promised reproductive health care and police accountability units, the attorney general's office will be adding a gun enforcement unit and government accountability working group under Andrea Campbell's purview.

Campbell said on GBH's "Basic Black"Friday night that the gun enforcement unit will be responsible for filing briefs in court to protect the state's gun laws, which the attorney general said she has already begun doing during her first month in office.

The unit will also work with Gov. Maura Healey's administration to educate police departments on conducting gun inspections, she said.

The Boston Globe found in December that dozens of police departments around the state did not know they were supposed to do annual gun shop inspections, and at least 235 dealers had reported 356,000 in-state sales since 2017 with no oversight from local law enforcement.

The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Municipal Police Training Committee, Department of Criminal Justice Information Services and the Mass. State Police began developing a curriculum last year to teach police officers how to conduct gun inspections.

The first of these training sessions was held on Wednesday, and there are three more sessions planned in the first two weeks of March, according to Elaine Driscoll, communications director at the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

So far, 300 officers are currently enrolled in the training program and the department can add more sessions to accommodate demand, Driscoll said.

Campbell, whose office provided training guidance for the course, said she looks forward to continuing to work with the Healey administration to ensure gun sale laws are enforced.

"Despite our Commonwealth’s strong gun laws, illegal gun trafficking remains a threat to public safety," Healey said in a statement. "This new initiative will provide local authorities with the tools and training required to conduct timely and comprehensive compliance inspections to ensure all dealers meet their legal obligations."

In addition to talking about her incoming gun enforcement unit, Campbell responded to a question on eliminating cash bail in the state with a noncommittal response -- though she didn't rebuff the idea.

"That's on the list to discuss and I will say it's an issue I care deeply about and I've paid attention to for years," she said.

The attorney general often talked about her own family's experience with the criminal justice system on the campaign trail, and on Friday night said when she was younger she couldn't afford a high cash bail for her twin brother Andre, who later died in custody.

"I talk openly about loved ones being incarcerated and my twin brother dying while in the custody of the Department of Correction. Part of the issue was a high cash bail that I, as next of kin, could not afford to pay, even though he had severe health concerns and health care issues," she said. "[It was] very difficult to get him out into a setting where he was provided adequate health care. And as a result of not receiving adequate health care, [he] would pass away while in that system."

She said an "internal government accountability working group" that her office is setting up will look at the issue of cash bail, in addition to prison reform, police accountability, wrongful convictions, misappropriation of funds and pushing for transparency and accountability in the Department of Corrections.

"Once we develop that agenda we will be transparent about what it is and be really bold in going after critical solutions," she said.

Illinois became the first state to completely abolish its cash bail system on Jan. 1.

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